Tag Archives: reluctant readers

“Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door”: On Assumptions and Pop Culture Reads

31 Mar

Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door: Urban Teens, Street Lit, and Reader’s Advisory was presented by Beth Saxton and Megan Honig at the YALSA Symposium 2010. Below is my summary of and speculation about relevance of the content to UK librarians.

Although as far as I’m aware, there is no street lit genre, many of the assumptions about the reading habits of young people are based on their appearance are the same in the UK as in the US. Assumption: “these kids don’t read” = “his jeans are baggy he must be illiterate” “these kids won’t sit quietly in the library with a book in their hands.”

There are two bottom lines: first that certain types of teens with certain appearances are born readers and others aren’t, and second, that certain types of books are more worthy than others. Scrutiny of these assumptions demonstrate their inaccuracy: the worth of various types of books is subject to constant and often contradictory debate, and there is a good reason for that oft-repeated aphorism “Appearances can be deceiving.”

Teens’ clothes do not effect or indicate their reading habits, but those habits are prescribed by certain important factors.

Parents have a huge impact on what – or perhaps more accurately whether – teens read. Whether parents encourage or discourage, value or disparage reading for pleasure, if will have a considerable impact on their teen.

Teachers have a significant on what young people choose to read. As Saxton stated, young people will ask for books at the level of reading they liked when they last had a teacher who made reading interesting/fun. Even if the books they remember fondly are below their reading level, they will ask for those books because of their positive associations with the material.

Of course, media also effects teen reading habits. Wired teens don’t ask for books until they’re in the media. Media makes certain books or films immensely popular, but only briefly (a month or two). Teens’ interest is held for a little while “as long as it’s on TV.”

So how to we react to books that are “on TV” or capture teens’ interest but strike us as “low” or inappropriate? Megan Honig answered some of these when she talked about Why Street Lit Matters.

Adult and street lit books deal with issues we wish teens weren’t dealing with: violence, sex, homelessness. Teens enjoy the books because they are fast paced, interesting, relevant/true to their experience (OR) takes them outside of their everyday lives, and are relevant to popular culture. Teens read Street Lit for many of the following reasons:

identity affirmation
reflection of lived experiences
engagement at a safe distance
wish fulfillment
risk-free thrill (“naughty” book)

Thus, although a book may not meet strict adult approval, if has the potential to hold great appeal for a teen. I have often heard librarians repeat both happiness that teens are able to find solace in books that reflect difficult or trying experiences they face and support for teens experiencing certain illegal or potentially harmful things within the safe pages of a book, rather than outside in the real world.


Great Library Programmes for Teens: Groups and Clubs

26 Jul

This is the first in a series of five posts about programme and event ideas for teens in public libraries. Check back every day this week for more!

Providing events for teens is one of the best ways of making contact with young people in your community and improving the library’s profile. It’s also a useful method of getting more new teens into your library.

The best way to recruit lots of teens to your service quickly is to run a few high-profile one-off events and simultaneously recruit for recurring groups. However, many libraries may find it easier to begin with a regular programme of recurring groups, which are less demanding on staff and finances. Here are some ideas to get you started or help you expand your menu of teen groups.

One of the wonderful things about teen groups is that they may be teen led (this really reduces necessary investment of staff hours!). Take a look at this YALSA article about teen-led groups (“your in-house specialists”) for additional suggestions. The costs for most of these groups is low, usually limited to snacks and drinks. (Providing nibbles is optional, but it does provide additional motivation to attend.) Typically only one staff member is required to lead the group; if the group is teen-led, you won’t need to provide any staff at all! Drawing and writing groups may require paper, pencils, pencils, and/or library computers to work on. Craft groups generally require craft materials (but these can be very inexpensive or even free if you choose crafts focused on recycled/upcycled materials!). Film showings and film groups present a special obstacle that I’ll cover below.

All groups will need some group-created parameters that you can help them establish from the very first meeting. Allow the group to help decide on ground rules (so long as they’re fair).

Reading Groups

The group may want to read and discuss one book together, in which case you’ll either need to find a reading guide online (these are easily located by searching for the title and author of the book, plus “reading guide”) or invent one yourself. Other options include running quizzes and games based on the book read (for example, last week I linked to some Hunger Games activities). If the group wants to read different books (especially if they have vastly disparate tastes), have them participate in a book reviewing scheme or start a book review blog!

Writing Groups

It would be useful to bring some writing prompts and exercises, which can easily be in creative writing books or on the Internet (Ink Provoking has an especially large selection of good writing prompts). Some may be keen to share and critique work, while others resist showing anyone their work. Establish ground rules including concepts of useful versus unhelpful critique. Again, it’s a good idea to talk this through, so that the group has the opportunity to create their own parameters and feels as though the rules are fair and accurate (instead of being externally imposed). Usually good critique involves being specific, stating strengths of the pieces before discussing its weaknesses, and focusing on the piece of being critiqued (as opposed to critiquing the writer themselves).

Art Groups

Art groups are similar in content to writing groups: prompts are useful (these can be objects or scenes to draw, characters or settings, et cetera) and critiques may feature (and need firmly established parameters to avoid both hurt feelings and soggy dialogue). If you library has a gallery–or any display space at all–you schedule a future exhibition for the group to make work toward. You can also run contests, or (if the group is interested), have them design cool library materials.

Craft Groups

Craft groups can be focused on one type of craft (such as knitting), or many varieties of crafts. Though I’ve never tried a craft activity at my library, they are apparently very popular with teens in the US. For a few good craft ideas, take a look at the Arystocrafts page, as well as some free projects from The Hipster Librarian’s Guide to Teen Craft Projects. There are loads of DIY and crafts sites out there (for example Generation T , which features simple sewing projects that reuse old t-shirts). You can also join the free YA-YAAC mailing list (scroll to the bottom of the page for joining information). It’s regularly updated and often features great free craft projects that have already worked successfully at other libraries.

Comics/Graphic Novel Groups

This is much can take the form of a graphic novel reading/discussion group (like the regular reading groups, or a comics-creation group (like the writing and/or art groups). Reluctant artists who write and writers who are nervous about drawing can be paired to make jointly produced comics.

Anime/Manga Groups

Anime and/or manga groups may wish to watch episodes of favoured anime together, swap drawing tips (and drawing pens!), learn to make better cosplay costumes, or simply want to chat about their favourite new manga.

An important note: if the group is wants to screen anime episodes or films, you will need to contact the distributor of the TV series or movie in order to gain permission. You may need to pay a fee in order screen films or television, although not all anime distributors charge for this service. See the Film Showings section (below) for more information.

Film Showings and/or Film Clubs

Film showings and/or film clubs entice teens uninterested in reading to attending library events. A film club may involve screening, discussing, or even making films (if you lack film equipment, you can always apply for a grant or bursary).

There are many out-of-copyright films legally available to watch on archive.org. Showing contemporary films is a trickier proposition. Many copyrighted English-language films are licensed by Film Bank. Film Bank charges a flat rate of £95 (including VAT) per year, if you don’t charge for the film or advertise the film showing outside of your library. If you want to advertise and/or charge, the cost is a £92 per film, plus a £150 deposit needed in order to open a Film Bank account.

Other companies (such as Optimum Releasing, who license Studio Ghibli’s animated features) charge a flat rate of around £92 per film. You can always subsidize the cost by charging a small amount to attendees or applying for funding to back the project.

Gaming Groups

Gaming groups can focus on real-time games from board games like monopoly to Role-Playing Games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop games such as Warhammer, or Live Action Role Playing Games (LARPs). Alternately, if you video game consoles or well-kitted computers, the group can play video games (from MarioKart to Guitar Hero) or live multi-player computer games.

Usually these sessions run themselves unless members are new and need to have complicated rules explained to them. The most important thing is to build a group around one type of gaming for which you have the equipment, otherwise you might end up with a lot of disappointed gamers.

You can find even more information about gaming in libraries on Teen Librarian.

Computer Groups

Know a group of teens with a passion for Linux, programming, and/or gadgets? A computer group provides a place to exchange ideas, open-source software, and maybe even write new programs or solder circuit boards together (okay, so soldering is a fire hazard, but the rest is viable!).

If you’ve got a great idea for a group that isn’t featured here, email yalibraryuk@gmail.com or tweet it at us @yalibraryuk. As always, you’ll be fully credited for your contribution!

Getting Started with Teen Outreach

23 Jul

So you’re out in your local community, all ready to promote library services with a bunch of confused/indifferent/wary/excited teens looking at you, watching for the big pitch. What do you do?!

The answer to that question varies widely depending on the intended audience and venue of your presentation. In fact, there are so many different methods of promoting your library service to teens that it would be impossible to cover them all in one short post. YA Library UK will revisit the topic frequently. For now, here are a few ideas to help you get started (or, if you’re not sure where to find teen groups to speak to, check out Where to Do Outreach for Teen Library Services):

To generally promote the library service:

Bring along library materials (books, graphic novels, et cetera) for the young people to look through. Some won’t be aware of how many interesting items the library has. Bring fliers promoting library events for teens.

Booktalks are quick soundbites that can be used to pique interest in a particular title. Booktalks take no more than a minute or two per book!

Get interactive and ask for feedback, or run an activity such as a round of Library Myth Busters or other interactive games.

If you can, get a few members of your Teen Advisory Group (TAG) to come with you and run games and promotions! Keep in mind that not all teens are up for doing this.

If you’re teaching the teen group a skill:

When teaching a skill, such as database searching, it can be useful to run contests to see who can find the information quickest, have quizzes or other interactive and relevant games to keep the group focused. You can also concentrate on searches related to areas that teens find entertaining, such as careers (idea mentioned by Kelly Jensen on the ya-yaac mailing list–her careers database includes a quiz, which is very popular with teens she’s worked with!).

If you’re speaking to reluctant readers:

Promote quick and exciting library materials such as magazines, graphic novels, manga, select nonfiction (ex: tattoos, popular music), practical resources like study and careers books, instructional books on everything from drawing to building machines to DIY to writing (many teens who don’t enjoy reading write journal entries, poetry, and/or short stories, or write their own comics or graphic novels).

Don’t forget to bring along fliers about teen activities in the library–a teen uninterested in reading might still enjoy the anime or computer or writing or film club.

Mention other types of library services–free computer access, films, video games (if your library rents them).

If you’re promoting the service at a festival or fair:

Bring relevant library stock and fliers! (This is almost always a good idea.)

Run a craft activity related to the festival or fair.

Run a prize draw for anyone who fills out a joining form that day. Announce the winner at the end of the day! It’s easy enough to provide a small prize, or even get a local business to sponsor you with a voucher or some other type of appealing goodie.

A few other ways to get teens interested in your library service:

Request feedback from groups of teens about what they’d like to see in the library. Many teens feel as though the library isn’t for them, or that they aren’t welcome at the library. Asking for their feedback and listening seriously to their ideas can help belie this notion.

Other ideas:

Teen contests reward young people’s creativity and also appeal to non-library users.

Have a tried-and-tested idea for outreach, or one you’ve just thought up? Disagree with any of the methods suggested in this post? Don’t hesitate to let YA Library UK know!